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July 26th, 1990 witnessed President George HW Bush signed the Americans with Disability Act into law. President Bush, in the signing ceremony, delivered a speech that said,

The long war of disabled people in the US.

The 1960s saw a dark period in the history of specially-abled people of US. Not only were they deemed inferior and unworthy of basic rights as an American, but the atrocities against them were also legalised and codified. Exclusion from public schools, involuntary sterilization, sending them to live in state-run institutions and denying them the right to vote. Their inborn disabilities were termed as ‘disgusting deformities’.

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Not just that, no provision was provided in public buildings or public transportations to facilitate their movement. 1970 also saw a rise in disable people in the US, as soldiers from Vietnam and Korea returned with irrevocable damage and disabilities.

What pushed the community to seek changes in their favor?

Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964 which provided equal voting rights to African Americans. This instigated the disability rights advocated to be more vocal and assertive in their demand for equal rights for disabled people. 1973 saw the first victory of the movement. They won the Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act which prohibited discrimination against the disables.  The government needed to publish an official list of which conditions fell under disabilities. Due to disagreement over the terms, The Department of Health, Education and Welfare was delaying.

Worried the whole initiative might be dropped, the Disability Advocates launched protests. The country then saw the longest peaceful occupation of a federal building in US history. In April 1977, a sit-in protest was launched at a federal building in San Francisco that lasted for 28 days.

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Further Victories

Several other victories that the equality seekers earned were free public education to children with impairments and prohibition of housing discrimination in the basis of physical disabilities.

In the 1980s the fighters embarked upon another struggle for equality, comprehensive civil rights legislation for disabled. The law was needed and owed to the community that was bullied for aged. The vice-chairman of The National Council on Disability, Justin Dart personally discussed disability policy with officials and gathered evidence of harsh discrimination against the disabled community. He came to be known as “Godfather of the ADA”.

While the country may be divided into democrats and republics, this one petition drew positive attention from the ends. In 1988, two Senators, Lowell Weicker and Tom Harkin, a Republican from Connecticut and Democrat from Iowa respectively, finally introduced the Americans with Disability Act.

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What does the Act provide?

The Americans with Disability Act catered to the disabled people with the same protections that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provided to people without any discrimination on the basis of race, colour, religion, sex or ethnicity.

Discrimination against people with disability for jobs, education, transportation and public services were banned.

“It is the world’s first declaration of equality for people with disabilities. It will proclaim to America and to the world that people with disabilities are fully human; that paternalistic, discriminatory, segregationist attitudes are no longer acceptable; and that henceforth people with disabilities must be accorded the same personal respect and the same social and economic opportunities as other people.” ~ Dart

Mohona Bhattacharya

Mohona Bhattacharya

Banaras Hindu University

2nd Year, English Hons.

Varanasi, UP. Mohona is an avid reader and equality seeker. She takes a keen interest in painting and finds solace among books, coffee, nature and dogs.

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